Sunak heads to Scotland in push for the union

Rishi Sunak will use a visit to Scotland to highlight the benefits of remaining in the United Kingdom as he seeks to counter Nicola Sturgeon’s push for independence.

The Prime Minister will meet the Scottish First Minister behind closed doors on Thursday evening, before the pair jointly announce millions in UK Government funding on Friday.

The money will “create thousands of high-skilled green jobs, drive growth, potentially bring in billions of private sector investment and provide opportunities for people across Scotland”, Downing Street said.

The Daily Telegraph reported that this will involve the announcement of two new green freeports expected to be near Edinburgh and Inverness.

British-Irish Council Summit
Rishi Sunak and Nicola Sturgeon with Michael Gove at the British-Irish Council Summit in November (PA)

In their informal face-to-face talks, Mr Sunak and Ms Sturgeon are expected to discuss the “shared challenges that people in Scotland and across the rest of the UK face” and cooperation between both governments, according to No 10.

The UK Government’s relationship with Ms Sturgeon’s administration in Scotland has been strained not only by the independence issue but also the potential for Westminster to block Holyrood’s gender recognition laws.

MSPs last month passed the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, approving charges which will allow trans people to obtain a gender recognition certificate without the need for a medical diagnosis.

Downing Street said no decision has yet been made on whether to invoke section 35 of the Scotland Act, which would block royal assent.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the move is still being looked at ahead of a deadline next week, adding: “There is a process to consider it and then he will be given advice to make a decision, that’s still taking place.”

LGBT groups
LGBT groups have written to the Prime Minister urging him not to block Holyrood’s gender recognition legislation (PA)

During his two-day visit, Mr Sunak is also set to meet search and rescue workers and a community group.

It will be his first trip to Scotland as Prime Minister, although he has held talks with Ms Sturgeon before and the pair met at the British-Irish Council Summit in Blackpool in November.

At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Mr Sunak said he wants to work with the Scottish Government on the issue of the North Sea oil and gas industry.

But he claimed Ms Sturgeon’s Government “don’t want to support the Scottish energy industry and the 200,000 jobs that it produces”.

He was responding to SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn, who said Scotland’s membership of the UK union “simply doesn’t add up”.

Mr Sunak said: “I’m keen to work with the Scottish Government to support the North Sea because it’s something that we’re all very proud of in the UK.”

According to The Telegraph, the new freeports will be at Cromarty Firth, near Inverness, and on the Firth of Forth, near Edinburgh.

The green freeports are aimed at boosting investment and growth through the use of tax incentives.